Where I’m at (Waar ben ik)
I feel like I am trying to do all of the things. Everything from following Dutch Instagram accounts to having enrolled in an in-person course to watching children’s shows with subtitles. I am using Anki for vocabulary building, going through Duolingo, and have even resumed Babbel after a long hiatus. Before starting my class, I went through learndutch.org’s free “1000 most common words” course and am continuing with watching “Heb je zin?” (an entertaining animated videos with applied grammar lessons). I’m also sporadically tuned into Kim’s Dutchies to Be YouTube channel.
There are these golden fleeting moments of clarity. I can understand all of the words on a sign and its meaning as I am taking a walk. I can listen to a podcast episode and grasp the crux of a story. I actually can understand Babbel again (the hiatus was due to the lesson ramping up so quickly, beyond my level at that time.)
There are even rare glorious moments when I feel like the universe is conspiring to teach me Dutch. For example: I watched a movie, learned the word “logeren” (to stay), and kept seeing and hearing it subsequently after—thereby cementing it in my long-term memory through unintended repetition and association.
But more often than not, I feel a bit stuck.
- I’m unable to conjure up simple sentences and resort to Google Translate (which is not always accurate).
- Word order still confuses me.
- I look up words multiple times in a day because I forget them.
- I listen to something—or even my teacher—and am barely able to grasp what’s going on.
- I forget whether words are “de” (gendered) or “het” (neutral), which is necessary for referencing a definitive object and any adjectives used to describe it.
- False cognates are rampant (“warenhuis” is department store, “magazijn” is warehouse, and if you’re wondering, “tijdschrijft” is magazine).
- And there are so many words that are just too damn similar. Adding a few letters to a word can change it completely (“richting” is direction, “inrichting” is design, “oprichting” is establishment). Isn’t that just rich?
As my class at Koentact is winding down, I am reevaluating my strategies for learning. Language learning is a deeply personal experience and cannot be magically achieved by merely taking a series of courses. I have taken too many courses throughout my life to know that you don’t learn just by getting As in the classroom. Of course, I value in-person interaction for educational purposes, especially the relationship with the teacher and students. But as someone who is motivated to learn and self-study, I wonder if it’s worthwhile to be in a classroom setting where there are varied learning styles and levels. The biggest goal for me is being able to speak and listen, and that’s not always possible in a traditional classroom environment that prioritizes instruction and requires distributed participation from all students.
I also am an avid writer, and wonder if there’s more room for me to dedicate to writing as a means of learning. My favorite classroom assignments have allowed me to write extensively about subjects, like my favorite restaurant or my home. Plus, I wake up constantly feeling like there’s a slew of resources that I need to get through. In addition to thinking about how to leverage learning, I’d like to also create a more sustainable curriculum or schedule for myself to digest materials.
So, that’s where I’m at. It can be enjoyable and tiring. (When I take a nap after an extended period of studying, I can feel my brain pulsating.) I try not to apply too much pressure on myself, especially as I try to speak Dutch in public. I am amused by the whimsical aspects of the language and as someone who is sensitive to words, have allowed myself to be touched by the depth of a carefully crafted message. Most importantly, I just try to go for it and have fun along the way. After all, what is life if not for exploration and stretching ourselves beyond what we thought was possible?